released 21 March 2011 on RCA
If you’d been charged with felony assault resulting in five years’ probation and a course of domestic violence counselling, there’s a good chance you’d find yourself out of a job. At the very least, your career would be likely to suffer. What you wouldn’t expect is that you’d return to your place of work to find some of the biggest and best names in your industry willing to work with you. This is because you aren’t Chris Brown. Yes, despite Brown’s convictions, there are a host of guest stars and collaborators on new album, F.A.M.E. It’s true what they say; there really is no business like showbusiness.
At this point, you may be wondering what this article’s about, and thinking that you came here to read a review of the new Chris Brown record, rather than a character assassination. However, past events are pertinent to F.A.M.E., and that’s apparent from the opening track, Deuces. Deuces is a statement of defiance aimed at a former paramour (widely accepted to be a certain Bajan recording artist) that paints Brown as the innocent victim of the relationship. He sings about how his ex was, “waiting for me to fuck up,” and how “you’ll regret the day when I find another girl,” who “knows just what I mean when I tell her keep it drama-free.” This is genuinely astonishing stuff and how Brown can be so tactless defies belief. Over mid-tempo, insubstantial R&B, guests Tyga and Kevin McCall get in on the act, informing us “thought it was true love, but you know women lie,” and “it finally hit me, like Tina did Ike in the limo.”
When taken out of context in a review, lyrics can often be bent towards the will of the writer, but these are pretty stark in meaning. There’s an uncomfortable feeling of Brown trying to coerce you, to convince you that his actions can be excused, and that he’s not sorry for what he did, only sorry he got caught. You might think he’d want to keep his head down and not mention past transgressions, but clearly that isn’t the case. Since being usurped by Bruno Mars, F.A.M.E. is Brown’s attempt at relaunching himself as a kind of “ladies’ man thug” a la Tupac.
The rest of F.A.M.E. – it stands for “Fans Are My Everything,” or, showing a staggering lack of foresight, “Fighting All My Enemies” – is little better. Worst of all are the sex-fixated slow jams, which display some of the least alluring imagery seen outside of a morgue. On No Bullshit, the noted violent misogynist boasts,“I’m gonna leave it in when we do it” in a heavily auto-tuned voice over a clichéd backing track.
In years gone by when censorship was rife, artists had to be imaginative and euphemistic when making allusions to sex. However, this is clearly now not the case and Brown has taken this as carte blanche to be very literal, removing any semblance of mystery and intrigue. The result is something about as enticing and erotic as a two hour documentary on the history of teapots. The nadir of F.A.M.E. – and perhaps of all recorded music in history – is the charmingly titled, Wet The Bed, featuring well-known campaigner for women’s rights, Ludacris. Brown and Ludacris are extremely confident of their sexual prowess, and this pleasant ditty lets us all know how they intend to please a lady so well, that she will – and let’s not mince our words here – experience multiple orgasms. As Brown coos, “put your legs behind your head, I’m gonna make you wet the bed” (no, seriously, he actually says that), you’ll probably start to feel nauseous. By the time Ludacris’s ridiculous boasts have begun – notably, “they call me the super soaker,” and “you about to get baptised, baby” – there's a good chance you'll be genuinely ill.
There is one genuinely hilarious track on F.A.M.E. though, when cowardly felon Brown teams up with Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne for Look At Me Now. Over a bed that sounds like The Clangers having a party with too much jelly, Brown attempts to rap. He then becomes fixated on his own penis (“since we talkin’ about my dick, all of you haters say hi to it”) before deciding he’s fed up of hip-hop and grinding to a halt. Then, Busta Rhymes criticises Brown’s flow, tells him he’s not good enough, and shows him how it should be done. It’s an odd situation, where an artist not exactly short of bravado is put down so comprehensively in his own record. When this happens, you might like to do what I do, and let out a barely audible, but still significant, cheer.
The music itself is depressingly by-numbers R&B with few (read: no) redeeming features. Justin Bieber crops up on one track (nice decision by your management there, Bieber), making the listener lose the will to live. Even the almost-listenable tracks (Up 2 You, Yeah 3x) have all been done before, and done a lot better too. By the time this album finishes, sticking knitting needles through your eardrums seems like a decent proposition.
F.A.M.E. is a vile, despicable album that doesn’t deserve to be supported in any way, shape or form. Its very existence is a frightening indictment of our times, in terms of our attitudes to music, women and the cult of celebrity. If, in 2011, you’re wondering why feminism still exists, this record could go some way towards explaining why it’s still necessary. Please, please do not buy this album. If you do, you are likely to hear a loud creaking sound; that will be either your family opening the door and leaving the room, or Emmeline Pankhurst turning in her grave.